Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Secret Southern Belle Language

It's no secret that the south is hot. Thankfully, we have modern conveniences like air conditioning and the liberty of wearing fewer clothes than our southern predecessors. 

I don't know how those girls did it. The huge hoop skirts, the pantaloons, the layers of clothing. I would have the vapors constantly. 

Although there wasn't air conditioning until the early 20th century, southern belles did use small, decorative fans to help them stay cool. Turns out, these savvy and sophisticated belles were using the fans to do much more than staff cool; they used the fans to communicate non-verbally. 

During my research for this blog post, I came across a delightful lady named Lily Graison. Not only is she pretty as a picture but she's also smart as a whip! Lily is an author and has dedicated much of her career not only to writing but to researching the lives of women throughout history. She is a USA Today bestselling author and you can find more information about Lily Graison here.  
(Lily graciously allowed me to share the list below that she originally wrote for her own blog).  
The ultimate southern belle, Scarlet O'Hara. Photo is property and courtesy of

Southern belles used decorative and practical hand fans to say the following (without saying a word): 
  • To hold the fan with the right hand in front of the face - Follow me. 
  • To hold it in the left ear - I want you to leave me alone. 
  • To let slide it on the forehead - You have changed. 
  • To move it with the left hand - They are watching us. 
  • To change it to the right hand - You are imprudent. 
  • To throw the fan - I hate you. 
  • To move it with the right hand - I love another. 
  • To let slide it on the cheek - I want you. 
  • To hold it closed - Do you love me? 
  • To let it slide on the eyes - Go away, please. 
  • To touch the edge of the hand fan with the fingers - I want to talk to you. 
  • To hold it on the right cheek - Yes. 
  • To  hold it on the left cheek - No. 
  • To open and close it - You are cruel. 
  • To leave it hanging - We will continue being friends. 
  • To fan slowly - I am married. 
  •  To fan quickly - I am engaged. 
  • To hold the fan against the lips - Kiss me. 
  • To open it slowly - Wait for me. 
  • To open the hand fan with the left hand - Come and talk to me. 
  • To strike it, closed, on the left hand - Write me. 
  • To semi-close it in the right and on the left - I cant. 
  • To hold it opened, covering the mouth - I am single.

Can you imagine?!? I bet those southern gents kept a watchful eye on the belles!

Take a look at these tips on etiquette for southern men from

21 Lost Gentleman Traditions That Still Apply Today

1. He stands when she walks in the room
In the old days, men stood out of respect when a lady, dignitary, or elderly person walked in the room. It was a sign of respect and humbleness. Today, men stand out of courtesy when a guest visits a meeting. A gentleman will stand from his table when he’s introduced to a guest. Who stays seated when a friend walks into a restaurant, bar, or their place anyhow? Standing shows you are attentive and you care.

2. He walks by her on the outside, closest to the street
Why is the top coat symbolic of the gentleman? Before our drainage systems, a man stood on the outside of the sidewalk in a long coat to protect her from the dust and sewage that could splash up as horse carriages passed by. Sewage was common in the streets. The picture of the man laying his coat over a puddle for her to walk over meant he was protecting her feet from fecal material more than rain water.

Today, a gentleman might stand in the way of puddles splashing up from buses, or in the event a car veers onto the sidewalk. Symbolically it might mean he’ll always be by her side, through thick and thin, and will protect her from anything.
3. He opens the door for her
A gentleman would help her up into the carriage as a sign of his protection and strength. Women would hold their dresses up as they were often long and heavy. The gentleman opened the door for her so she wouldn’t have to drop her dress in the dirt.

The modern gentleman helps her in and out of the car to stand in the way of creepy gawkers. Opening a door for her is not a sign she is weak, but a gesture of affection.

4. He never criticizes a home-made meal
An out-loud criticism of a meal as a guest was considered disrespectful to the host. If anyone takes the time and effort to make a dinner, they are your host. Honor them. Smile and chew.

5. He doesn’t LOL for the sake of attention
“Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and ill-manners…”Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman (1746). He might write an “LOL” over text in the present, but a gentleman doesn’t have to be loud to command attention. He commands attention through his strong character.

6. He pulls out her chair
It was common for the gentleman to pull out her chair and allow her to face the open room. Today, the gentleman pulls out her seat, and sits facing away from the crowd and the TV because he doesn’t want to be distracted from his priority when he forgets to take his Ritalin.

7. He sits after she sits
“…and at the table wait until she is seated, indeed wait until every lady is seated, before taking your own place” The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1860). (This is a free download for Kindle, by the way).  Talk show hosts continue this tradition today by waiting to sit until after their guest has taken their seat. If Oprah does it, so can you. She’s your guest. Allow her to sit first.

8. He helps her put on/take off her coat
Up through the Edwardian period, women wore multiple layers, and beneath them a restricting corset. A gentleman would help his lady put on and take off her coat because of her restricted movement.
Corsets are not common today, but many women still enjoy the help of a gentleman.
9. He doesn’t walk ahead of her
Because ladies wore long dresses and could trip on them, the gentleman walked behind her when climbing a staircase. Tumbling down a flight of stairs isn’t a good way to end a date. Today, the gentleman follows this etiquette rule because she might be wearing long heels or a long dress. This is another sign of him protecting her. However, she may want him to walk up stairs first if she’s wearing a short skirt.

10. He gives up his seat to her if there is only standing room
A gentleman offers his seat to a lady if there are no other seats on the bus/train. I’m talking to you…the dude who wouldn’t give his seat up to the pregnant lady.

11. He carries her bags
A gentleman will help her carry her bags today, and when flying, will assist others in putting their luggage in the overhead compartments.

12. He picks up the check
An English gentleman never split the meal with his date. The English used the term “go dutch” in “derisive application,” as they stereotyped the Dutch as being cheap, or “stingy.” Today, the gentleman generally picks up the tab, especially on the first date, and with no expectations.

13. He holds an umbrella over her when it rains
It was common for a younger person to hold an umbrella for an older person. When it rains, the gentleman holds an umbrella over her and doesn’t mind getting a little wet. 

14. He gives her his jacket
A gentleman pays attention, and if he notices her shivering, he gives her his jacket to wear.

15. He keeps her secrets
A gentleman will always keep a secret, especially the one entrusted to him by the woman of his dreams. Should a break-up happen, the gentleman can still be trusted.

16. He walks her home or to safety
A true gentleman will walk her to her car or home to this day because he’s concerned for her safety.

17. He listens to her
“To be a good listener is as indispensable as to be a good talker…” The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness (1860). A gentleman always listens because he wants to deeply get to know her.

18. He’s on time
A gentleman is his word. Traffic is not an excuse for being late to a date. A good man plans in advance. Don’t keep her waiting.
19. He compliments her
She spent a lot of time getting ready, so a gentleman always compliments. He doesn’t play on her insecurities. Negging is for creeps.

20. He would never dream of hitting ANY woman
“…the greatest man would justly be reckoned a brute if he were not civil to the meanest woman” Martine’s Handbook (1866). The same rules apply today. It doesn’t matter if you are Chris Brown or Ray Rice, a gentleman finds no excuse to hit a woman…no matter what.

21. He asks her father for her hand in marriage
In Victorian days, a gentleman would have to show his coat of arms, or his credentials to her father to show he was a worthy man for marriage. The 21st century gentleman asks her father for his blessing because it’s respectful and courteous.

What are your favorite etiquette rules? What do you think should come back into fashion? I would love to know your thoughts! 

With warmth and love, 

CEO- The House of Q’s
Keep in touch!

No comments:

Post a Comment